I Can Look After Myself

Is it a rupture when only one of you knows about it?

On Saturday we had our last session before Anna’s two week holiday break. I was looking forward to seeing her – we’ve had a couple of months of an increasing sense of closeness and the previous two sessions in particular felt very connecting (this and this). Despite the difficult subject matter where I tentatively talked about a sensitive issue I’ve not been able to share before, I felt very seen and understood. Anna was gentle and patient with me, encouraging me to talk but making it very clear that I was in control and that we could go as slowly as I wanted. She checked in with me a number of times which felt really caring and like she was holding me safe. The second of the two sessions in particular I felt something shift inside me. A little bit of the walls crumbling. I felt my self-consciousness melting and as we sat on the floor next to each other, not even talking, I felt deeply inside me like she really cares. In that moment the inner critic (who popped up to doubt the authenticity of what Anna was saying to me) was easily silenced. I knew she was right there with me in that moment.

So, on Saturday I walked in feeling good. I wanted to briefly tell her how amazing the past two sessions had felt and then talk a bit about how I felt about her going on holiday for two weeks… going from seeing her twice a week for two full months to no contact for two weeks. When I sat down I felt instantly like things were different, not bad just not as intimate and close. In the very difficult sessions, where I am feeling things deeply and feeling very seen, where I feel like she is being caring… it’s hard to explain but it’s like a filtered down, concentrated, potent version of therapy. It is focused and powerful and intense like very loud music listened to on headphones… I can’t help but feel it… those are the sessions where I can really feel the connection between us. During other sessions when I don’t feel emotions that deeply or don’t get upset, the ones where I stay in my adult and she doesn’t feel the need to be as overtly nurturing, they just don’t feel as connected – they are like listening to music that’s playing in another room, it’s muffled and not as clear. Unfortunately, the sessions before a break often feel less connected. I have two theories about that. One theory is that I unconsciously don’t give as much in the session before a break because a part of me is pre-empting the abandonment, so I reject her first. The other theory (one which Sirena suggested to me) is that Anna holds us both back in the session, not allowing me to go too deeply into anything very meaningful so that I’m not left carrying any painful residue or dealing with a kickback with no session to support me through the aftermath. Either way I am left feeling like all the closeness, connectedness and warm fuzzy feelings were all in my head and never happened in the first place. I feel like I must have imagined the intimacy, must have imagined the caring… how could I be so stupid to actually thinks she cares. Then I have to leave her office with this gnawing doubt about the authenticity of our relationship and not see her for however long.

So, back to Saturday’s session… I happened to mention that I’d been receiving a lot of messages through my blog and Instagram page from people who had found my words affirming, validating… saying it resonated with them… and I told Anna I felt a real sense of community amongst these people and that not only did they find my writing helped them but them reaching out to me helped me. I was feeling less isolated and enjoying sharing. I had mentioned briefly in a previous sessionthat I’d started blogging but not gone into details. Anna stopped me and said, ‘you write about therapy on your blog?’ I nodded and immediately noticed something change in her. A slight flicker across her face, she shifted on her seat and rested her head on her hand. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, ‘that’s great that you’ve found it helps you.’ I nodded but was sure that wasn’t the full story. I didn’t give her a chance to even check in with herself, I started to fire off statements that I thought might counteract whatever it was she was thinking, ‘it’s completely anonymous, it’s not my real name, or yours… I only share what I’m comfortable sharing… you wouldn’t even recognise yourself if you read it!’ she smiled and said, ‘would I not?’ I said, ‘even if you knew the name and googled it, it wouldn’t come up, it’s such a tiny part of the internet, only a handful of people read it and I’ve blocked everyone I know in real life from the therapy Instagram page… no one could find it!’ I could tell she was trying to give me a reassuring expression.

I said, ‘I can tell you’re thinking something negative about this just tell me what it is!’ she thought for a split second (that always feels minutes long) and said, ‘I was concerned because you’re just in the early stages of feeling comfortable sharing with me and I don’t want you to be putting yourself in a vulnerable place where you could be open to criticism and hurt… I know your adult might be comfortable sharing these things because you know it’s anonymous but it’s important to think about your child… how she feels having these things out there…’ I felt like she thought I was an idiot, doesn’t she think I know how to keep myself safe? I said, ‘why can’t you just be happy for me!?’ I felt like saying, ‘what, so you want me to share but only with you? You want me to talk but only if it’s just you!? Our little secret, is that what it is? Don’t tell anyone else… don’t talk to anyone else!?’ I didn’t say that though (although that should be brought up next time because that’s definitely an old wound). I kept reiterating, ‘it’s anonymous, I’ve hardly shared anything anyway…’ Anna said, ‘I was concerned but you’ve reassured me that it’s anonymous, I don’t know how blogs work anyway and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this so it’s all new to me… I’ve never had a client tell me they write a blog… we talk about very personal, sensitive stuff in here…’ I said, ‘I don’t think you are worried about me, it feels like you’re worried about you – you’re worried that you’ll be recognisable in what I write!’ I felt like she didn’t trust me. She looked carefully at me and said, ‘you think I care more about whether I’m anonymous or not rather than caring about you… like how your mum always made everything about her?’ I replied, ‘hmmm yeah… well?’ Anna repeated that I’d reassured her and that she understood we were both anonymous.

We moved on to talk about a doctors appointment I’d had the previous day. When I’d come home my husband immediately greeted me at the door wanting to know how it had gone and even though it was fine and the thing I’d gone for had turned out to be a false alarm (thankfully) I was angry at him and wanted to just storm off upstairs. I didn’t want to tell him about the appointment. I was annoyed he was asking me. Anna helped me see that in that moment I felt two things (both relating to my mother)… one was that I felt like he would think I’d ‘made a big deal out of nothing’ and the other was that he wanted to find out the results to alleviate his own worries, not because he wanted to see how I felt about it. Neither of those things were true of him, they were both transference from childhood stuff. Anna then helped me see that Adam cared a lot about me and was just showing his love for me by asking me how it went.

I then quickly jumped out of that thread and said, ‘I still don’t feel okay about the blog stuff I want to go back to that.’ Anna said, ‘okay, what’s coming up for you?’ I said I felt really yucky. I pulled my knees up to my chest and sat sideways in my chair facing the wall and not looking at her. I said, ‘I wish I’d never brought it up now!’ She said, ‘oh why?’ in a kind and sympathetic tone. I said, ‘well it’s spoiled everything, it all feels weird now, I want to make you believe that it’s all fine, I need you to believe me, I don’t feel like you believe me (another old wound) it’s totally anonymous, it feels good to write it, I want you to be okay with it!’ She said, ‘Lucy, you’ve done nothing wrong here. You’ve done nothing wrong. I believe you, you’ve reasured me. I don’t read blogs, I don’t know how they work, I just wanted to know you were keeping yourself safe… does that make sense?’ I felt very stubborn and angry as if she was taking something fun away from me. I also felt like she was criticising blogs by saying that she doesn’t read them. I really was taking everything she said personally. (Now that I’m relfecting and writing about this I’m finding it interesting that this teen part of me decided to show up in THIS session… the one just before a break! What’s that all about? I wonder if it’s because I spent the past two sessions talking about horrible things that happened to me when i was a teenager. Like I’m testing her or something… do you really care about me? Even when I’m like this!?)

We moved on to talk about how I felt about her going on holiday. I said, ‘obviously I am glad you’re taking a break, you deserve a holiday… and selfishly I want you to be well rested and ready for all my shit so I’m glad you’re going on holiday! I want you to have a good time. But there is another part of me that feels very differently. In the past I wouldn’t have shared this because it wouldn’t change anything so what’s the point in saying it and I don’t want to make you angry or whatever but now I understand that it doesn’t matter if expressing my feelings wont change anything, what matters is that I get to share how I feel and have my feelings heard…’ I had turned myself back round to face her again and looked at her as she smiled and nodded, encouraging me on… she said, ‘so, how do you feel about me going on holiday?’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to go! I don’t WANT you to go! The past couple of months have felt amazing, I like seeing you twice a week I don’t want to stop, I want to see you twice a week forever and ever!’ I sort of laughed and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t want it all to change. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before.’ Anna said she didn’t feel like I would go back to that. She talked about how difficult it used to be for me to say anything, that I talked slowly and deliberately with lots of long pauses as I carefully, thoughtfully considered every word. She told me that I’m not like that anymore, I’m far more comfortable with sharing things and can often dive right into a subject without the big preamble like I used to do. It was nice to hear her say that.

I said I was really sad that I was losing the twice a week sessions but I just can’t afford it long term. This month is going to be so hard because not only does she have a two week holiday, she also has a training day one of the Saturdays and on another I can’t make it. Anna picked up her diary and looked at me, she said, ‘I could arrange to come in a couple of Sundays so we can keep up the consistency if that would help?’ I said that would be amazing, then I said, ‘how would you feel about me doing Tuesdays fortnightly along with the Saturdays. So that I’m not completely dropping the Tuesdays?’ She agreed to that immediately and then said, ‘well, how about I just don’t take on a new client, so your slot on Tuesday will remain yours and you can come whichever Tuesday you want.’ I was so touched that she would do that, she would forfeit the money she’d get from a new client just to keep my slot free for when I need it. I told her I’d prefer that to a Sunday and she said, ‘me too, I’d rather not work a Sunday if I don’t have to.’ And it struck me that she actually meant she would come in to the office just for me on a Sunday. I was really moved by this and thanked her for helping me find some way to work it all out. Now that I type this out I can see that she does still care about me. She has consistently tried to find ways to help me within her boundaries. I need to remember that.

After Saturday’s session I freaked out about the blog stuff. I felt completely derailed. I sent her two very long texts (one going on and on about how I need her to believe me and the other talking about how ‘it’s my story to tell anyway!’) – thenI panicked and requested a phone call and then four hours later (after no reply) I sent a text asking her to ignore all those messages. I couldn’t stand the pain of no response and just told her I felt fine now. Told her to enjoy her holiday. I felt like such a selfish bitch texting her on her holiday. I hope she doesn’t hate me for doing that.

I’ve reflected on all of this with two close friends. They both helped me see more clearly what was going on for me. My inner teen was massively triggered by Anna showing care for me by being slightly protective and cautioning me on looking after myself. This type of care does not sit well with my teen. I never experienced this kind of care from my parents. They were never consistent, they didn’t have rules, I wasn’t given boundaries, I didn’t have a curfew, there was never a list of things I wasn’t allowed to do, I was never disciplined in a fair and consistent way… but every so often I would unwittingly break an invisible rule that would send one of my parents into a blazing fury or push my mother to her emotional breaking point. I never knew where I stood. I could never predict how they were going to respond. One minute she’s pressuring me into taking a joint with her boyfriend, the next she’s screaming at me coz she found a joint in my top drawer when she was snooping. I remember her once getting angry at me for back answering her when I was about 17. She shouted, ‘you will respect me, I am your mother!’ I was usually very compliant and eager to please her but by this point that part of me was dead. I laughed in her face and said, ‘are you fucking kidding me? NOW you decide to mother me? I don’t fucking think so!’ and walked away from her. This is exactly how I felt with Anna… like ‘how dare you try to tell me how to look after myself! I’ve been looking after myself my whole fucking life, how dare you tell me what to do…’ mega teen kick back. It’s the part of me that HATES being told what to do. I remember when I’d been working with Paul for about two years and we were reflecting on our sessions and he said, ‘I learned very early on that you don’t like being told what to do.’ I didn’t understand back then why I was like that and I’m not even sure he did… but I know now – it’s because it feels like the person who is doing this thinks I’m incompetent. And it feels threatening to the part of me that had to grow up fast and look after myself. When I was little, care felt like letting a person do whatever they wanted. Anna is teaching me that care is actually boundaries, care is calling someone out when you know they’re bull-shitting or criticising themselves, care is questioning a person’s actions or words. But this all hurts so much when you’ve never had it before. One of my friends likened it to my daughter and how I won’t let her go to the park without me yet. My daughter might think I’m being unfair but actually it is the love and care I have for her that has dictated that decision. Anna cares about me and wanted to make sure I am thinking carefully about my decisions.

Since reflecting on all of this I have modified a couple of things on my blog and the Instagram page, just to ensure anonymity. I feel so much better about it all. I’m looking forward to sharing this insight with Anna who will probably have no clue that this rupture has happened!

Boundaries – love hurts

When I started working with Anna all of my weird crazy behaviours became exaggerated… I wasn’t even aware of what was happening but basically I pushed every button, crossed many boundaries and in her words, ‘tested her to the max’… she says I was so certain she would leave me that I laid it all out on the table in the first couple of months like a challenge… ‘this is as bad as it can get so if you’re going to leave, you better leave now!’ That made me chuckle and squirm because it felt familiar, and embarrassing. One particular instance around session 20, I sent her a long text message which went along the lines of, ‘everything is awful, nothing’s getting any better, life is bleak and black and all things are dark and hopeless and I don’t know if I can keep myself safe tonight but I’m worried that you’ll terminate our work if I can’t look after myself…’ In my head I was freaking out because the previous night I’d been triggered during an intimate moment with my husband, had a flashback and then cut myself. All this came out of the blue and hadn’t happened for years… I was worried that if she knew I’d hurt myself she would stop working with me. A few hours after I sent the message she phoned me. I was completely shocked and didn’t answer. She had been very clear about the fact that she would never reply to a message unless it was about session timings and we would only speak on the phone if I asked for a call. I quickly sent her a message saying I was fine and that I would see her at the next session. I then sent a few more texts apologising if she thought I was trying to manipulate her with my initial text and then finally the following day I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked her to call me. She arranged to call me the following day and when we spoke on the phone she was reassuring and brief. She gave me a ten minute boundary and instructed me to not get into the depths of the issue on the phone. I asked for reassurance that she wasn’t planning on leaving me and she assured me that she had no intentions of leaving and that she would be there at the next session to talk to me about all this.

At the next session she started by saying she wanted to address the messages. She was very formal and stern seeming, she laid down some pretty solid new boundaries around texting. She called it ‘hammering in the posts’. She made it clear what I was and wasn’t allowed to say and that she wouldn’t reply to any texts other than session time arrangements. She told me that I was harming myself by sending those kinds of messages in full knowledge that I wouldn’t get a reply, it was a re-enactment of getting no support for my cries for help as a child. That made sense but it was so excruciating. She then talked about the frame of therapy and how she needs to keep herself well and that means having sessions in a protected space and time… she said, ‘your messages are encroaching on the rest of my week… I didn’t think you’d need the text support for this long…’ among other things. She tried to help me understand that in order for her to be able to help me, we needed the boundaries. She explained that boundaries are a caring and loving thing to do, not a rejection but a way to maintain health in a relationship… presently I can see how that is true however back then I was swimming in shame and triggered rejection wounds. I was sure she hated me, that I was ruining her life and that she regretted ever agreeing to work with me (though she ensured me that wasn’t the case). I couldn’t look at her, I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to peel my skin off and set my bones alight… I was in pure agony.

I have held the shame and pain of that session close to my heart for nearly two years. I drew about it to try to express to Anna how her delivery and choice of words had built a wall between us but I never showed her (see image at the start of the post). In the session yesterday I finally told her how I’d felt. I awkwardly blurted out how painful it had been to hear her say that she basically felt burdened by me. I don’t know if I missed something but I feel like she wasn’t fully absorbing what a big deal it was to me. She did say it was great that I told her, she encouraged me to keep going when I wanted to stop, she felt like it was a good sign of progress that I was being honest with her and not keeping it bottled in. But something inside me felt full of doubt and fear, certain that she must hate me. I feel like I lost the connected, bonded feeling and just became very isolated. I told her it had frightened me when she called me after I’d sent that text, that she had broken her boundary and that unsettled me. She explained that part of the boundary we set when we created the contract around texting and phoning was that if she felt I was at risk of harming myself she would call me or my named person on our contract. I said, ‘well maybe I needed you to believe that I was going to be okay and felt like you over reacted..?’ she said, ‘I didn’t know you well enough back then to take that risk, it was my duty to make sure I followed up, I was very concerned about you because of the way you worded the message which is why it’s really important you don’t send texts where you’re expecting me to read between the lines… it has to be clear communication… does that make sense?’ I said it did.

I said that when I was working with my last therapist it felt like I was a box of fireworks that had accidentally been set alight and he just sat me down in the corner of the room to fire off inside myself, sparks ricocheting around the room, with him sitting unscathed occasionally offering compassionate glances. He would let me email him as often as I wanted and he never reacted to the evocative things I wrote in them. I interpreted that as ultimate acceptance, ‘unconditional positive regard’ as he kept referring to it… but I wonder now if it was too passive… a bit neglectful… lazy? Working with Anna has been starkly different. She opened the box immediately and my sparks hit her and it scared me… it maybe frightened her too… she showed me how my behaviour and the things I said could impact her. She wasn’t going to let me ‘misbehave’ while she turned a blind eye. She was going to let herself care enough about me to really see me and I was going to need to bare that in mind if we were to form a healthy connection.

At our session yesterday I told Anna that at the end of our second session she looked me in the eye as I was leaving and said, ‘you don’t need to do this on your own anymore, Lucy.’ I told her I felt two things when she said that. A small part of me lit up with hope and wonder, gratefully ready to receive all the help and care, while a much more powerful part was furious. I said, ‘it was like who does she think she is, she doesn’t know me, she doesn’t know what my life is like, I am completely on my own, I walk out of here and I have to deal with this all by myself, I only have her one session a week… what a generic, shitty thing to say!’ I stopped and scanned her face. She had a curious, open expression and seemed intrigued by this insight, I asked if she was hurt by what I was saying or if she felt anything negative at all towards me and she said, ‘no keep going, this is really good…’ so I continued explaining how maybe a part of me took her up on the challenge… ‘maybe I thought okay – you wanna show me how I don’t have to do this on my own? I’m gonna give you a window into the bleakest, most desperately alone moments of my life and see how you handle it…’ she didn’t say much but she was listening. I wonder if she was reflecting on how unhelpful her statement of support had been, or maybe she was hating me… who knows. She talked about how this really shows us that we can be hurt by people, we can hold anger for them, but we can also have a relationship with them and like other parts of them… something was lacking, I think I wanted her to apologise for it all, to really connect to what I was saying rather than give a general overview of the therapeutic learning. I told her I wished it had never happened – that I was ashamed of my behaviour back then and I know better now but back then I’d never experienced her kind and caring nature, I just saw her as harsh and very boundaried. Anna talked a little about how I wasn’t able to take in any kindness when we started working together and that she needed to establish safety within our relationship, then build trust, then introduce care.

Writing out my thoughts on the session is helping me process it all. I don’t feel as anxious about it now and I can see that Anna probably thinks it was a great session and would be very surprised to learn that I had such a massive kickback from what was discussed. I no longer feel an urgent need to check that we’re okay. I will wait and see her the day after tomorrow and check in with her then.

The Therapy Relationship and the Rooms in My Mind

I’ve been missing Paul (my last therapist) the past few days. I started working with him over 6 years ago and we worked together for 3 years. We didn’t have a proper end to our work for a few reasons… one being that he isn’t particularly good at endings… another is that I had my second child and couldn’t afford therapy while on maternity leave. When I was ready to come back to him I discovered he’d stopped working in the city I saw him. So that was it… we had a final Skype session a couple of months into me working with Anna and I said goodbye then. Paul told me he would always be my therapist and the door was always open to me but I really needed to feel the closing. I needed to feel an end. For as long as the door was open, the grief couldn’t happen. I’m still not fully there even though it’s been three years since I last saw him. It comes up with Anna every so often… the grief I need to process.

I reverted back to an old favourite self-destructive cycle today of casually browsing through his daughter’s social media account and felt myself slip into a familiar pattern of comparisons and jealousy. I guess if I try to see things from a distance – my therapy relationship with him wasn’t always therapeutic. Sometimes it was painful and retraumatising. There’s something about me, my history, my attachment wounds that makes me desperately need very firm boundaries. I didn’t know that about myself 6 years ago and so when Paul presented me with a very relaxed model of therapy (sharing many details about his personal life with me) I dove head first into the delicious sea of self disclosures, swimming in the idea that it somehow made me special or unique because he told me these things… ignoring the pain it conjured up or worse, blaming and shaming myself for the pain. Now I have experienced a very different therapy model (Anna doesn’t share anything about her personal life, the only self disclosing she freely gifts me is her authentic emotional responses and even then I am very aware she is constantly considering whether it is beneficial to my therapy for her to disclose).

Today the pain of missing Paul got the better of me and I started reading over old therapy notes from our sessions. It makes my heart ache because there is a part of me that loves him still so much and desperately wants to go to him now. Reading it back is interesting, I would do things differently now if I started working with him today. I thought I would share some of the notes here. This one is from June 2013. Almost exactly 6 years ago. I’d been working with Paul for 4 months.

We were in a different room today; it was a brighter, smaller room with a view out onto the skyline of the city. I stood at the window for a couple of minutes looking down at all the roof tops and people below. The other room has a small roof window that you can only see sky out of so it was nice to get a sense of where we were in the world. Paul explained why he had to move, something to do with a new colleague but I was too busy dealing with feeling anxious about the change of room and worrying about which seat to sit in and what each seat decision would say about me that I missed his explanation. I overanalyse everything in my head…. wondering what he is thinking about me. It’s exhausting. Paul said that he received my emails and that the first one was quite long and he didn’t thoroughly read all of it. I cringed and apologised and he said –‘no, no don’t apologise it’s absolutely fine, I said you could email me and I know it is a great therapeutic tool for you – you can email me whenever you want and I don’t want you to feel bad. When I have the time I really enjoy reading your emails – you’re a good writer – in fact I’ve only had two other clients who were as good at writing as you and they are both writers themselves.’ I thanked him and was a bit taken aback, I said I was embarrassed about needing to write such long emails and he asked why. I said I hated being so needy and that I imagine he feels burdened and dreads seeing my name pop up in his inbox. He thought for a bit and said he didn’t feel burdened at all. That feeling burdened was a choice and that he doesn’t push himself harder than he is capable of. He said he is marking for the SQA at the moment so he has less time for emails but still checks his emails every other day. He said, ‘you are paying for this service Lucy, it’s your therapy to use as you need it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m paying for this hour a week not for you to spend your personal time looking at my emails,’ I joked about my brother teasing me about Paul telling his wife to cancel their weekend appointments because he received an email from Lucy King. He laughed and said, ‘You’re not quite that bad! I am glad my other 20 clients don’t email me though I have to say…’ I said, ‘What? Seriously? I’m the only one who emails you?’ and he said, ‘Well, yeah they email to arrange appointments and maybe run a couple of things by me but no they don’t email like you do…’ I couldn’t believe it – I was mortified but he said it was fine and that it obviously was cathartic for me to get it all out. He suggested that when I have a particularly important email I could print it off and highlight the important bits and bring it to session. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the ego but a part of me loves that I’m the only one who emails him like I do. That he sits and reads my words. That I will be forever known in his mind as the client who sent very long emails… not sure even what I mean by that… that I want to be remembered? That I want to be special? That I want to stand out in some way…? Maybe if I’m unique, interesting, special in some way then he wont want to stop working with me…?

So Paul then asked, ‘How’s things?’ and I paused for a while and looked out the window… ‘not great to be honest…’ He looked curious and I started to explain, ‘I have had a great week, really lovely catch up with friends, great weekend in the garden and a bbq with friends… lovely week… then I met up with dad yesterday and that put me back to square one! I don’t know how he still manages to do this. I thought that after bringing him to a therapy session things would change. Dad had suggested we meet up for lunch and stupidly I looked forward to it, I thought it would be nice. I arrive and all goes fine but he seems distant (I look up and Paul is nodding with a pensive look on his face, absorbed in my story), I just presumed it was because he just came from work. We make small talk and it’s a bit awkward. We talk about the weekend and talk about my daughter, we eat, he then asks about therapy. (I look up again and say, ‘you know it really annoys me that he still askes about therapy – why does he care? He doesn’t own it any more… he only paid for the first 3 sessions!’  Paul says, ‘it is none of his business and you don’t need to share any of it with him’). Dad then asked in so many words why therapy is taking so long, he says he thought it would just be ten or fifteen sessions. I told him I have a lot more to work through than I thought.’ I then went on to detail the rest of my lunch with dad, I explained that I told dad that it upsets me how mum still has the power to affect me just by being her. Dad told me there has to come a point where I get all I need from myself and stop looking to others to change how I feel. He didn’t understand so I changed the subject to asking him about work which in turn made him ask about my work.

‘I talked about how I’m not enjoying teaching at the moment. That the thought of teaching until I am nearly 70 feels like a life sentence. It is stressful and makes me more anxious, I have been looking into ways that I can do a little more learning and change career or something. But dad just said that everyone thinks their job is stressful and that very few people enjoy what they do and in fact it took him over twenty years before he enjoyed his job and that I should write a list of all the things I like about my job because I’d probably find that I wouldn’t get a better one.’ Paul then said, ‘it’s interesting that he didn’t say anything affirming there…’ I said, ‘I think he was only ever proud of me because I got a degree and became a teacher, I don’t think he would know how to feel about me if I changed career.’

I told Paul that I had explained to dad that I knew the pros and cons of my job, that it was pretty depressing to stay in a job because you get long holidays – that the plus side of your job is the times you aren’t in work. That I asked dad if he could imagine when he was 29 being told he would never earn any more money than what he earned at that point. Then he suggested going for promotion. I said the thing I love about teaching is the kids and being a head teacher I would spend no time with the kids.

I said to Paul, ‘I mean, it’s like he knows nothing about me… then dad said, ‘this was the problem with your mother, she was never happy, no matter what job she had or where we lived, nothing made her happy she always wanted something different…’ I just didn’t know what to say!’ Paul looked all kind of contemplative and screwed his face up a bit, ‘That makes me so angry!’ He said, ‘Doesn’t he realise that all his daughter needs is a hug and to be told she can do whatever she puts her mind to… you’re nothing like your mother Lucy, I could have told you in your first session that you are nothing like her, I think his comparison there is because of this issue he has where he unconsciously has merged you with your mum – he can’t see you are a separate person.’ I said, ‘well he should know me – he should know! It’s like he is trying to hurt me…’ Paul said, ‘I don’t think he has the capacity to see how other people are feeling, Lucy. If you were my daughter I would NEVER say anything like that to you… it is very easy to affirm you and validate you because it is true, you deserved better…’ I could have melted into the energy of the room… ‘if you were my daughter…’ that sentence makes my heart hurt. I looked away to stop myself from connecting fully to his compassionate eyes and losing it completely. I composed myself and finished the rest of my story about lunch with dad. ‘I told dad that I thought that if someone he respected like his wife told him she was thinking of a career change he would listen and take it seriously, he would ask what she didn’t like about the job and tell her she should follow what she enjoys but I felt that he was telling me I couldn’t get anything better than what I’ve got and I am just like my mother. Dad then said, ‘I didn’t say that… I said none of that. I wasn’t comparing you to your mother.’ I asked, ‘what was the purpose of bringing her up then?’ and he said, ‘what’s the point in me answering that?’ I said, ‘so I can understand you better,’ and he replied ‘we’re just digging ourselves deeper into this hole we’re in so we should stop talking about it.’  It makes me feel crazy, these kinds of conversations. I’m not allowed to have a response that contradicts his opinions… he literally wont let the interaction continue. So there was about 5 minutes of silence then I started getting my daughers coat on. I said, ‘with all due respect I am not going to waste 25 years of my life hating my job in the faint hope that by the time I am in my mid-fifties I might enjoy it. I am the main bread winner and want to not only enjoy and further my career opportunities but also widen the possibility that my family could have more money coming in, I do not make decisions lightly.’ Paul looked very serious and said, ‘you are nothing like your mother Lucy. You have been teaching all your adult life and have been with your husband for 12 years – you are a considered and stable person who commits to things.’ I nodded and just felt such deep sadness for the fact that this man I have only met for an hour or so a week for a few months knows me better than my own father. I told Paul that dad had said that I should count my blessings. I have a great husband and daughter. That it made me angry when people say I’ve to be grateful for the small mercy of other people enriching my life rather than being proud for the things I have worked damn hard at achieving, maintaining and improving.

I told Paul that I cried my eyes out all the way home. That I felt like such a fool. That at this present moment I want nothing to do with both mum and dad. They bring nothing positive to my life, just heartache and disappointment.

Paul said he resented dads comment about Paul encouraging me to take on more and more sessions. He said, ‘not only is he suggesting that I am unprofessional enough to lead you on like that but he is also implying you are stupid enough to be manipulated by me… I’m feeling angry and resentful about that,’ I said I was sorry that dad made him feel like that but it was good to hear because I was angry too. I said, ‘after we had the session with dad I asked him what he thought of you and dad said, ‘he’s a lot older than I thought’… I hadn’t told you about that because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings but I now realise your feelings wouldn’t be hurt because you don’t care about dad.’ Paul nodded and said, ‘he was just putting down your experience, belittling it… when the three of us were working together, I got the feeling that he was very intimidated by me and how in tune we are, that we have a connection, he probably felt threatened.’ I agreed and said, ‘I then asked dad what he thought of you as a person and dad said, ‘well he obviously cares a great deal about you!’ and I felt a mix of emotions, I felt happy because of course I want you to care about me but I felt sad because I want dad to care about me too, want him to care about me more…’ Paul said, ‘I just wonder though if your dad just doesn’t have the capacity to care about anyone other than himself, if all he is thinking is ‘how am I?’ then he won’t even consider anyone else.’ I said that made me sad and that’s what makes me wish I’d never started therapy because this feeling is so painful, knowing what it feels like to get it from Paul and knowing I will never feel that from my own dad. I said, ‘It’s just… well… it’s a shame, you know?’ and Paul said, ‘it’s a crying shame, that’s what unconditional positive regard is all about. You deserve nothing less.’ I said, ‘can you honestly say that with all the clients you’ve ever had you have always managed to have completely unconditional positive regard for them?’ and he thought for a bit and said that he was certainly aware of his judgements and prejudices so he doesn’t let it affect how he is with clients. He said, ‘I’ve been working in mental health for so long now it does come a lot easier than it used to. I remember one client when I first started doing this, I asked her at the end of what I thought was a great session if she thought it went well and she said, ‘no, I thought you were really judgemental…’ and she walked out and never came back. I learned a lot from that.’ I asked Paul if he agreed with her and he again thought for a bit like he always does, really considers his answers, then said, ‘no I didn’t agree with her but it taught me that your perceptions of things often differ from the clients.’ I said, ‘it was obviously her issue then,’ and he said, ‘yeah but o#I could have handled it differently…’ He said he has been trained to be aware of his reactions and why he feels certain ways.

I said that I was sick of constantly letting my dad hurt me, that I thought I was over all this and Paul said, ‘I thought you were too, I thought you had moved on from your dad and we were going to start talking about your mum,’ I replied, ‘well I guess this was a test about just how over it all I was. I failed big time because I still do care.’ Paul said, ‘do you think that you wish you’d never come to therapy because you think nothing has changed? You are still the same but many people believe they must change or get fixed in therapy but that’s not the case we are actually all fine we just need to learn to live with what we have,’ I said, ‘no, I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I am getting much better at expressing how I feel, better at accepting how I feel for example I am currently feeling that anxious pain that I get in my chest (he later explained again that was fight or flight) and instead of hating myself for feeling like that and believing there is something wrong with me, I now just think I have this feeling, that it’s probably quite understandable that I feel like that because of what we are talking about and I just carry on with what I’m doing.’ Paul said, ‘that’s interesting, good, that’s good…’ I explained that after dad’s lunch I felt really awful and would normally have swallowed the feeling down and just got on with my day not really knowing how I felt but yesterday after dad I just let myself feel sad. I cried and cried until I was done crying.

I said, ‘I just don’t know why I keep going back – why don’t I just refuse to have a relationship with them? I feel like such a fool.’ Paul said, ‘All humans live with hope – that’s what makes us human, but we are actually very self-destructive as a species and I don’t mean physically I mean we worry and think and can be very negative about ourselves and if our situation is more than our system can tolerate then we turn to physical ways of self-destruction like drinking or other ways… like you experienced,’ He talked about the need for balance and quiet in our minds, the effort we must put into trying to balance our thoughts. He said, ‘At work as a teacher you must see the children who are constantly ill because their bodies are trying to cope with this high level of hormones and chemicals that they’re producing to attempt to manage their anxiety?’ I said that I was always ill as a child, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I had a really bad attendance rate.

We talked a bit about how perceptions of things change over time. I said, ‘I think the biggest thing that has changed is that I used to have this stupid hope that things would get better or would have this expectation of what I thought mum and dad could be – that if only I could adapt myself enough and change who I am to fit in with what they would need and like then they would change. The difference now is that I can see that they can’t be what I want and it makes me really sad – like a grief.’ Paul said it was interesting I chose those words – that I used to be in denial and now I was grieving a relationship that never existed but that I’d always thought was possible. He explained about his own mum, that he doesn’t always get closeness from talking to people but sometimes just spending time with them, sometimes in silence, can feel intimate. That Paul and his mum speak a different language but he still feels close to her – he would just never talk about something emotional with her. He said he had always wished his relationship with his dad had been something more and that he had always had that feeling about his grandfather as well, that he wished their relationship could have been more than it was, but he didn’t think his grandfather understood what him – he said it was a sad time. I felt like Paul really connected with me and what I was going through. I love that he shares parts of himself with me.

I said I was sick of feeling like this irritating yappy dog that’s constantly leaping about and seeking love and attention, ‘love me love me love me…’ it’s humiliating… and all they’ve ever done is turn away from me. Paul said, ‘I’m really interested in your analogy about feeling like a wee yappy dog because it clearly illustrates how you feel and I think it’s about time you made the decision that you are no longer going to put your all into those relationships. You need to see that your parents are just two people, that they will not meet your very low and reasonable expectations. You have very validating relationships with Dave (husband), your friends and your Daniel (brother)… you’ve talked about him quite a bit and he sounds like a really positive influence in your life.’ I said, ‘yeah I’m so fortunate to have him in my life – if I had to go through all the crap with mum and dad just to get him in my life then I guess it was worth it.’ Paul smiled and said, ‘well that’s a really great way to look at it isn’t it, I mean if you didn’t have the parents you had you wouldn’t be you, I mean I know there are parts of yourself that you don’t like but there are plenty of things I’m sure you do like and you just wouldn’t be you, Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel, if you hadn’t had your mum and your dad… that’s a really interesting way to look at your experience isn’t it?’ I agreed and said that I can’t think of many things I like at the moment but that yes – I wouldn’t be me and Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel without our parents.

Somehow we got to talking about some of the techniques he’s taught me like the mindfulness meditation. I said that I was finding the meditation really helpful, that I feel like I’ve had a sleep after just 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. He said it’s like a brain nap – that he loves it, loves clearing his mind. He said, ‘one day a few weeks ago I did the initial mindfulness meditation with five clients – in one day – I was so relaxed!’ I laughed and so did he, he said, ‘it was a bit of a cop-out, can’t do that every day!’ I said, ‘the initial time we did it I don’t think I was capable of doing it right though, it was a bit odd,’ Paul said, ‘yeah I’ve had a few clients who won’t do it with me in the room, one client told me, ‘there’s no way I’m doing that with you, it’s weird!’ He explained it is pretty intimate and you have to be very trusting to close your eyes and experience that with someone. I said, ‘well when we did it I did peek at you a few times!’ and he laughed again, I said, ‘I think that was the main benefit of the exercise actually – it wasn’t about the meditation it was about learning that I could trust you.’

I had been watching the clock all session as I usually do but by this point we were past the hour and Paul was still nestled in his seat looking pretty comfortable so I figured I could let him be in charge of the time keeping. (Interestingly when we did get to the end of the session after an hour and a half he started to wind the conversation up by asking the usual, ‘how did you find today then?’ and I stood up as I normally do and we then continued talking with me standing and him sitting for a further ten minutes. That often happens – I think I end things by standing up first so I feel in control and not rejected – I’m sure he is probably very aware of whatever reason it is that I do it). Paul said that he was going on holiday the first week of July (same as us) and that they were visiting the Scottish Isles (also a coincidence as we are going to Orkney). I said, ‘That’s a bit different from the Caribbean then…’ and he said, ‘well yeah it’s my brother in law who owns a hotel and restaurant out there, it is great and we get everything for free but the flights are extortionate and we just don’t have the money at the moment to fly 3 kids out there. I also feel a bit indebted to him and although they’re family I would rather not owe them anything. Plus I don’t think they like how opinionated I can be – they didn’t speak to me for two days on one trip because I said something they didn’t like,’ That made me laugh a lot. I have such a hunger to be part of his life. I want to know it all. I want to be in it with him. Oh my god I don’t know why I feel like this but it feels so good and so awful all at once.

We made some more small talk. He said I must be looking forward to my long holiday, talked a bit about how being a therapist is a really rewarding job. We talked a bit about the value of siblings and how he loves to hear his wee gang of kids rallying together. He mentioned a couple of books – one by John Cleese about surviving families and another about compassion. I showed him the book I am reading about the power of validation. He talked a bit about mental health and I said that everyone in Britain seems depressed. Paul said, ‘when I lived in Sweden I saw people with serious mental health issues in the street every day because they don’t over medicate out there like they do here… all sorts of people are just accepted and welcome in society. We numb everyone down over here…’ He continued, ‘I’ve always attracted people with mental health problems, I remember being in a bar at a music festival in the 70’s when a guy walked through the whole bar pushing his way through the crowd towards me. I take a sip of my pint and then the guy gets to me and says, ‘I’m a schizophrenic’ haha – it’s like he searched the whole place for me. That has happened a lot in my life.’ I said, ‘So you just thought I might as well be getting paid for this!’ and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah that’s exactly it.’

We got organised to leave and Paul started to walk me down the stairs to the main entrance. He saw me to my car and said he’d enjoyed talking to me today. I said I did too and that I looked forward to the sessions. I said I’d try to limit the emails this week and he smiled and said he looked forward to his bit of extra light reading. I drove away and felt better than I did when I arrived but also something else sitting in the pit of my stomach and in my chest… a sadness… maybe that I want so much more than I can ever really have from him. A feeling of dread at what I’ve started by walking into his office four months ago. Maybe healing is meant to hurt this much.

So… that was fairly long! If you made it through to the end then I applaud you… thank you!

I have a lot more psychological insight now than I did back then. I understand myself on a deeper level. I know about attachment pain, ego states, transference, counter transference, boundaries, projection, holding, containment… all of the behind the scenes things that make us tick, that make therapy what it is. I definitely have more to learn but I also want to acknowledge how much has changed in me. I’ve been feeling confused about the work I did with Paul – was it too ‘shallow’, why did we avoid so many topics, why did we talk so much about him, how do I feel about the lack of time boundaries and his self disclosures. I’ve talked a lot to Daniel about my experiences with Paul and the work I’m currently doing with Anna. He said these words to me… ‘People don’t come into our lives by chance Lucy. You were meant to work with Paul and you were meant to work with Anna. Perhaps Paul came along at a time when you needed to be shown you are loveable. That you are worthy of the extra time and bending of the boundaries, that you are not and were never too much, that something extraordinary about you made Paul want to work with you in an extraordinary way… and now you are stronger and now there is a part of you who believes you’re worthy, you can let Anna teach you about tolerating the deep emotional pain you’ve pushed away all your life.’ Perhaps he’s right. I know I couldn’t have done the work I’m doing now back then. The doors to those rooms in my mind and my soul were locked and I didn’t have the keys. Now with Anna I’m slowly sorting through the very complicated entry system within myself and braving what’s inside every room. One door at a time.